Physical Activity

Physical activity is well known for helping prevent diabetes—but did you know that physical activity can also reduce your risk for certain types of cancer? Regular exercise also helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces stress.

Our ancestors knew that keeping the body healthy was just as important as keeping the mind and spirit healthy. They stayed active by playing traditional games, hunting, fishing, gathering foods and doing outdoor activities like canoeing and snowshoeing. No matter their age, our ancestors always had something to do to stay fit and healthy.

Today, staying active is still important, and can be done in many different ways. Keep reading to get ideas about how to be physically active at the different stages in our lives:



Do the hokey-pokey! Toddlers should play actively for 60 minutes every day. Parents, siblings and caretakers of all ages can help toddlers stay active and build their social skills by engaging in fun games, such as rolling a ball, playing with toys, learning to crawl and walk, and dancing. Before engaging in physical activity with toddlers, check that the play area is safe from debris, slippery spots or other dangerous obstacles. Remember to praise your toddler as you play, and have fun together!


Children and teens

Children and teens should play actively for 60 minutes a day. Children should spend most of their physical activity doing exercises or games that will get their heart rate up—this is called “cardiovascular” or “cardio” exercise. Examples of cardio exercise great for children include:

  • playing sports
  • running
  • dancing
  • martial arts
  • swimming

Older children and teens can begin weightlifting. All children should stretch regularly to avoid injury and strain on the muscles. Playing on the playground and going for walks around a park are great ways to stay active as well. Remember to help them stay hydrated and eat healthy! For ideas on physical activity for kids, check out the American Council on Exercise videos at ACE Fit.



Adults should be physically active for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. The great news is: you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once! You can take small exercise breaks in 10- or 15-minute of cardio and strength training. Physical activity can be done anywhere, though—including at your desk, outside with the kids, in the grocery store, or in the garden. Anything that gets you up and moving is good for you. Not sure where to start on your journey to better health? Start with a walk! Remember to do gentle stretches to avoid injury, and go at a pace that feels good for you.



Older adults can exercise for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Regular physical activity will help our elders maintain their balance and reduce the risk of falls. Elders may enjoy walking, swimming, recumbent or stationary biking, and gentle stretches. Many exercises can be done in a seated position, such as stretching, aerobics and lifting weights. Elders should exercise in a safe environment free of obstacles that’s not too hot and not too cold.


Limited mobility

People with disabilities and limited mobility can and should exercise, too! There are many activities that can be done safely from a seated position or using assistance from a helper. For more information, see this guide from Harvard Health on chair exercises and limited mobility fitness intervals to get to your 30 minutes. You can exercise at the gym, and work on a balance.